Losing the Left Tackle Is Like Losing the Quarterback (Sort of)

Losing the Left Tackle Is Like Losing the Quarterback (Sort of)

When we suggested yesterday that the sorry state of the Eagles' offensive line wasn't on Andy Reid, a handful of folks still felt a few key injuries are no excuse. Had the front office only drafted better, they wouldn't be in this mess, right?

The problem with that theory is unless Reid was planning to use a first-round pick on a backup left tackle, chances are he would have a hard time finding an adequate substitution for the fallen Jason Peters.

I tried merely making the point that quality left tackles don't grow on trees by citing there is always a premium on the position come draft day. Perhaps had I specified where the overwhelming majority of the NFL's left tackles are taken, that would better illustrate the point. Here goes.

Of the 32 players who are their club's regular starter at left tackle, 10 were chosen within the top nine picks overall, while 19 overall -- more than half -- were selected in the first round. Another seven are from rounds two or three, bringing the grand total to 26.

Over 80% of the league's starting left tackles were tagged in rounds one through three. In other words, the chances of a player taken later actually panning out as a left tackle are slim. And when Peters is under contract, in his prime, why would the organization use one of their cherished early picks there rather than at a position of need?

The numbers are actually very similar to another important position: quarterback. 23 of the NFL's 32 starting signal were taken in round one, including a whopping 15 within the top 10 picks. Between rounds one and three, that number grows to 28, just two more than at left tackle.

As we've mentioned in the past, history tells us when a quarterback goes down with a season-ending injury, his team is usually screwed. Since playoff expansion, only Jeff Hostetler, Kurt Warner, and Tom Brady have relieved injured teammates on their way to winning a Super Bowl -- and two of them are headed to the Hall of Fame.

We can't be certain the same is true for any offensive linemen, but we can at least confirm the position is nearly as difficult to fill. Simply put, there isn't a lot of left tackle talent in the NFL outside the first round, therefore if a team has an injury there, they almost inevitably will wind up with a King Dunlap type filling in.

Can the offensive line woes be blamed entirely on the loss of Peters? No, but probably more than you might imagine.

Peters needed little help in pass protection, so the Eagles could send extra blockers to the right side. Not surprisingly, Todd Herremans appeared to take a step back this year when that assistance was shared at the other end. Peters was also by far and away their most athletic and physically imposing blocker in front of LeSean McCoy on runs and screens, making the back's down year easy to predict.

Then the Eagles sustain an injury at center two weeks into the season, and suddenly Reid is trying to fill holes at two highly specialized positions. Only four centers were drafted at all in 2012, and only one after round four, so finding quality depth is not as simple as you might think.

But left tackle in particular is a difficult position to carry depth, because left tackle depth doesn't really exist in the NFL. If a player was going to be an even remotely decent left tackle, he's probably gone by rounds two or three in the draft, typically much earlier. One lineman was projected to start at left tackle immediately in this year's draft, and Matt Kalil went fourth overall to Minnesota.

The fact is, the left tackle position is like the quarterback position in that it's very difficult to replace, and only the top-tier level of talent consistently rises to the top. Obviously first rounders have a higher rate of success in general, but you can find decent contributors at other positions later on with far greater frequency.

Brian Carroll's goal in 92nd minute gives Union draw with Rapids

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Brian Carroll's goal in 92nd minute gives Union draw with Rapids

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Brian Carroll tied it in 92nd minute and the Union escaped with a 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids in a showdown of the Western and Eastern conference leaders.

Carroll ran underneath Fabian Herbers' high-arching header and slotted the finish under goalkeeper Zac MacMath from close range.

The Union (5-3-5) responded only 5 minutes after the Rapids (8-2-4) opened the scoring on Sam Cronin's header in the 87th minute. Cronin made a deep run to connect with Marlon Hairston's cross from the right flank, redirecting it into the far corner of the goal.

Both Dillon Powers and Luis Solignac had shots crash off the crossbar for the Rapids after the 70th minute.

The Union extended their unbeaten streak to seven while the Rapids stayed unbeaten in their nine home games this season.

Chase Utley haunts Mets in Dodgers' rout at Citi Field

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Chase Utley haunts Mets in Dodgers' rout at Citi Field

NEW YORK -- Chase Utley hit a grand slam and a solo homer after Noah Syndergaard threw a 99 mph fastball behind his back, and the Los Angeles Dodgers went deep a season-high five times in routing the New York Mets 9-1 on Saturday night.

In a scene that seemed inevitable since October, Syndergaard was immediately ejected following the third-inning pitch -- almost certainly his shot at retaliation against Utley for the late takeout slide that broke the right leg of then-Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in last year's playoffs.

Plate umpire Adam Hamari tossed Syndergaard, sending Mets manager Terry Collins into a rage, but no trouble ensued between the teams. A longtime New York nemesis, Utley raised one hand slightly in the direction of the Dodgers' bench to keep teammates calm -- and later answered by doing all sorts of damage with his bat.

Kenta Maeda (4-3) shook off an early line drive that appeared to hit him in the pitching hand and threw five shutout innings for the win. The right-hander yielded two hits, both in the first, and snapped his three-game losing streak.

Adrian Gonzalez homered and had four hits for the Dodgers, who spoiled the Mets' 30th anniversary celebration of their 1986 World Series championship. Corey Seager and Howie Kendrick also connected, all after Syndergaard was gone.

Pinch-hitter Juan Lagares homered in the eighth for New York, long after the outcome was decided.

The stoic Utley is playing at Citi Field this weekend for the first time since Tejada was injured. The Mets -- and their fans -- were incensed by the aggressive slide, which led to a change in baseball rules this season designed to protect infielders in what some call the Utley Rule.

But the Mets had not tried to retaliate until Saturday night.

With one out and nobody on in the third inning of a scoreless game, Syndergaard's first pitch to Utley sailed behind the second baseman's back by a considerable margin.

Hamari immediately ejected Syndergaard, prompting Collins to come storming out of the dugout. Collins also was ejected after screaming at Hamari and pointing in his face during an animated argument. The manager was finally escorted back toward the New York dugout by another umpire.

After waiting near the mound with teammates for some time, Syndergaard walked calmly to the Mets' dugout without showing any emotion as the crowd cheered him.

Logan Verrett (3-2) entered for the Mets and, with a vocal contingent in the sellout crowd of 42,227 urging him to hit Utley with a pitch, eventually threw a called third strike past him. But then Utley homered on Verrett's first pitch of the sixth to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.

Booed all night, Utley added his sixth career slam off Hansel Robles in the seventh, giving Los Angeles a 6-0 cushion with his 38th career homer against the Mets.

In the series opener Friday night, Utley was greeted with loud jeers and derisive chants. He had four RBIs in a 6-5 loss, including a three-run double that tied the score with two outs in the ninth.

Where are you now?
Tejada was released by the Mets during spring training and signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, who designated him for assignment Saturday.

Trainer's room
Dodgers: RF Trayce Thompson exited in the fifth with lower back soreness. He was replaced by Yasiel Puig, who hit an RBI single off Verrett in the sixth.

Mets: INF Wilmer Flores (hamstring) went 1 for 2 with a sacrifice fly in his fifth rehab game for Double-A Binghamton. Before the game, Collins said it was reasonable to think Flores could come off the disabled list Sunday.

Up next
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (7-1, 1.48 ERA) starts the series finale Sunday night against 43-year-old Bartolo Colon (4-3, 3.44). Kershaw, coming off a two-hit shutout against Cincinnati, is 7-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 10 starts against the Mets. He is 5-0 with a 0.64 ERA in May -- including a three-hit shutout of New York on May 12 at Dodger Stadium. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has struck out 55 and walked two this month.

Soul drop 1st road game of season to Gladiators

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USA Today Images

Soul drop 1st road game of season to Gladiators

The Soul fell on the road to the Cleveland Gladiators, 63-49, at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night.

The loss was just the second of the season and the first away from the Wells Fargo Center for the Soul. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh completed 25 of 44 passes for 342 yards and seven touchdownsi in a losing effort.

The Gladiators were led by receiver Quentin Sims, who finished with 10 receptions for 114 yards and three touchdowns, and signal caller Arvell Nelson who completed 22 of 36 passes for 307 yards and seven touchdowns.

Next week, the Soul travel to Jacksonville to take on the Sharks on Saturday, June 4. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports and 97.5 The Fanatic.  Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.